From Mayweather To Bad Weather, Hype Of The Century

Flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston on Aug. 27
Flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston on Aug. 27


It was the "Fight of the Century." Or was it?

As far as fighting goes, Saturday night's $700-million mega-bout between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor — also humbly dubbed "The Biggest Fight In Combat Sports History" (capital letters matter) — was actually a tad more entertaining than Mayweather's 2015 "Fight of the Century" against Manny Pacquiao. But where does it rank compared to the 1971 "Fight of the Century" between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier? Or compared to the first "Fight of the Century" between James Jeffries and Jack Johnson in 1910, the only one to have actually taken place more than 100 years ago?

You see where we are going with this: Either centuries have become exceptionally short or boxing promoters have a serious lack of linguistic imagination.

But the tendency to use hyperbole isn't limited to the world of sports. It has invaded every single corner of the entire universe (and this paragraph). There's no denying its place in politics, as the man currently sitting at the Oval Office, Donald Trump, once predicted he would be "the greatest jobs president that God ever created."

Trump's over-the-top claims on the campaign trail now seem almost quaint after having edged toward a nuclear confrontation with North Korea with linguistic escalation "the likes of which the world has never seen." This past weekend, the president's bombast was applied in the service of seeming to marvel at the "HISTORIC" nature of Hurricane Harvey — and no doubt his coming self-declared historic leadership in response to the damage.

As devastating as the Texas floods are, the coverage it got worldwide appears out of proportion.

We in the media, of course, are suckers for such verbal inflation, tucking "unprecedented," "historic" or "mother of all" whatevers into all the headlines we can find. A quick search with one of these keywords on Google News is enough to see how overused these terms have become.

Yet we all know that as they get repeated undiscerningly, such words are eventually bound to lose their power. The same, it turns out, can happen to numbers. Hurricane Harvey, together with the flooding it caused, was anticipated (wrongly, it appears) by many as a "once-in-500-year flood". Even when the people of Houston had to live through such a tragic event just 16 years ago.

The fact that it happened in the U.S., the world's culturally dominating power, only serves to reinforce the warped view of reality transmitted via the global media. As devastating as the Texas floods are, the coverage it got worldwide appears out of proportion. Compare it to the space dedicated to the Aug. 14 floods and mudslide in Sierra Leone. At least 1,000 people were killed, and nobody called it the storm of the century.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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